Martin Contreras and Keith Orr
The worn wooden steps ascending to the Aut Bar's second floor lead me past a large, orange-painted canvas emblazoned with a burly, hirsute stud donning a Canadian Mountie cap--very Tom-of-Finland. An emerald glow bathes the landing, radiating through a homey window. To my right a wooden door opens into a fastidiously clean unisex bathroom with scarlet walls and a full-length mirror. Directly ahead rises the upstairs bar, with three tiers of long pale wood shelves supporting a vast array of colorful liquors, and above them a projection screen upon which Gladiator silently slashes toward its finale as David Guetta's track "Titanium" unobtrusively thumps though the sound system.
A dozen men, ranging in age from twenties to around sixty, sit on dark leatherette-and-chrome barstools. Some wear office garb and others flannel shirts and faded jeans. The amiable crowd is largely white, but the most striking presence is an immaculately groomed, androgynous-looking black man whose towering frame is wrapped in a plush leather trench coat.
Martin Contreras's sister, Laura Mendez, arrives around 10:30 p.m. and playfully greets the gathering in Spanish. Soon she is serving beer and cocktails, sometimes to go with platters brought up from the downstairs kitchen.